The Iris Family

The Iris Family

Image: Joan Keyter

Rodney Moffett (Research associate, Dept. of Plant Sciences, UFS) contributing with a series of articles regarding the more interesting plants in the Clarens Village Conservancy.


Members of the Iridaceae are a group characterized by long strap-like leaves and flower parts in 3’s or 6’s, and having only 3 stamens. The most well-known are the bearded irises found in many gardens. These are, however, not indigenous, having originally come from the northern hemisphere. 

Indigenous members of this family occurring in and around the Conservancy are genera such as Moraea, Gladiolus, Watsonia, Hesperantha, Schizostylis, Dierama, Crocosmia, Tritonia and Aristea. 


(named after the wife of the Swedish botanist, Linnaeus).
Closest to the garden Iris, two Moraea’s occur here, viz: Moraea tripetala, dwarf and mauve and M. alticola, found in higher parts.

Moraea alticola

Image by Wim Wybenga


(Latin name for a sword, referring to the leaf blades).
Four species locally, viz: Gladiolus dalenii, G.crassifolium, G. papilio and G. saundersii  (the latter rare, one plant seen so far).

Gladiolus dalenii.

Image: Anneke Kritzinger

Gladiolus crassifolius  

Image: Wim Wybenga

Gladiolus papilio

Image: Anneke Kritzinger

Gladiolus saundersii 

Image: Rod Moffett

Watsonia lepida 

(after William Watson, 18th century English scientist).
Only one species here, Watsonia lepida. Often in large populations.

Watsonia lepida  

Image: Anneke Kritzinger

Schizostylis coccinea

(Schizo, Gk for split; stylis, Latin, referring to style). 
One species here. Schizostylis coccinea. River lily. Found in wet places.

Schizostylis coccinea 

Image: Wim Wybenga


(Hesperos, Gk for evening; anthos Latin for flower).
Two species in the CVC., viz: Hesperantha coccinea (formerly included in Schizostylis) found In wet places and H. schelpeana. Latter rare.

Hesperantha coccinea 

Image: Anneke Kritzinger

 Hesperantha schelpeana 

Image: Rod Moffett


(Diorama, Gk for funnel, referring to shape of flower).
One species locally. Dierama robustum. Common name, Hairbells.

Dierama robustum  

Image: Anneke Kritzinger


(Krokos, Gk for saffron; osme, Gk for smell).
One species in the CVC, Crocosmia paniculata. Gardeners also know it as Montbretia.

Crocosmia paniculata  

Image: SANBI


(Triton, Latin for weathercock, referring to the stamens).
One species in the CVC. Tritonia lineata.

Tritonia lineata 

Image: Wim Wybenga


(Arista, Latin for point, referring to the sharp pointed leaves).
One species in the CVC, Aristea woodii. Blue flowers rare in this family.

Aristea woodii  

Image: Wim Wybenga

Gladiolus saundersii, Welcome

Gladiolus saundersii, Welcome

Saunders’ Gladiolus, also known as the Lesotho Lily, is not often seen in our immediate area, on the contrary! Rodney Moffat, an honorary research fellow of the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of the Free State, now living in Clarens, says he often sees this lily in the Drakensberg but cannot recall when he last spotted it in Clarens.

This elegant lady stands 400-600mm tall, usually grows in colonies in fairly dry rocky places between 2400-3000m. The leaves are sturdy, erect and grow into a fan to 15-25mm wide with the midrib thickened, showing prominent veins. The flowers are large, more or less 60mm wide, usually downward facing and strongly hooded. It is bright red with a broad white mark and speckling on three lower tepals.

The flowers can be eaten as salad or cooked as a pot herb. It is often used in traditional medicine to treat diarrhoea.

Only when it takes over

Declaring war against the invading Robinias.

The invasive Robinia tree has recently taken over big areas in our Clarens Nature reserve, particularly in the Titanic area, and in the valley below the Scilla and Maluti View trails. The CVC decided to use extra casual labour for two weeks, working with our own Rangers to cut the trees and treat the remaining roots with herbicide.

The Robinia has long thorns which makes cutting and handling a difficult task. Even the firewood collectors shy away from the cut wood.

The CVC will now make it a priority to find and cut more “lonely trees”, and regularly patrol cut areas and stop any further growth. The application of herbicide is unfortunately not 100% effective and follow-up is important.

The 2 weeks clearing project has cost the CVC R13 000.

It remains the goal of the CVC to keep our beautiful natural surrounds in good state, and we appeal to our residents to support them. Donations are not only welcome, they are essential.

The CVC Robinia clearing team. Piet (3rd from left) and his casual workers together with two of our rangers.

Left to its own device it will grow into a tall tree…

…and produce some flowers as well!

The Robinias form an extremely thick bush, obviously unaffected by the current drought.

Very good progress has been made.

ERICA, oftewel heide

Rodney Moffett (Research associate, Dept. of Plant Sciences, UFS) contributing with a series of articles regarding the more interesting plants in the Clarens Village Conservancy.


Laat my langs die heide wandel, Waar die heiderosies blom. Waar uit bossies en groen weiland Nuwe lenteliedjies kom.

Gé Korsten en Min Shaw se alombekende lied vestig die aandag hierdie lente aan die heide-soorte in ons Clarens Bewarea.

Daar kom drie soorte Ericas binne die bewareagrense voor en nog twaalf ander in die nabyliggende berge. Van hierdie twaalf is sewe beperk tot die Drakensberge en word dus beskryf as endemies aan die bergreeks.

Die naam Erica kom moontlik van die Grieks ereika wat beteken – dit wat maklik breek, en verwys na die soort se takkies wat maklik breek.

Die Erica familie is ‘n besondere groot familie wat bekende tuinplante soos Azalea en Rhododendron insluit, asook die Bloubessie (Vaccinium) waarmee in ons omgewing (Slabberts) nou geboer word. Erica self, bestaan wêreldwyd uit oor die 800 soorte, waarvan ongeveer 650 in Suid-Afrika voorkom, met 600 in die Wes- en Suidkaap alleen. Die plante is klein immergroen struike met kleurryke blomme wat wissel van 2mm tot 35mm in lengte. Verbouing is deur middel van steggies in herfs of deur middel van saad.

Erica cerinthoides – rooihaartjie – red sticky heath – momonyane in Sesotho. Die naam cerinthoides beteken – soos die heuningblom, Cerinthe. en die Sotho naam verwys na klein lippe. Dit is ‘n ylvertakte struik tot 800 mm hoog met kort naaldvormige blare en rooi buisvormige blomme. Nie volop in die CVC  nie en kom gewoonlik tussen rotse in die hoër dele voor.

Erica cerinthoides. Foto: Wim Wybenga

Erica alopecurusvosstert erica, foxtail erica, tjhesa ditedu in Sesotho. Die naam alopecurus vergelyk die bloeiwyse met die van ‘n vos se stert en die Sesotho naam beteken ‘n brandende baard. Dit is ‘n dwerg heide tot 300 mm hoog, met regopgroeiende stingels afgerond met ‘n borselagtige bloeiwyse van klein, diggepakte pienk blommetjies. Kom voor in vogtige grassland en mooi voorbeelde kan aan die suidekant van die Kloofdam gesien word.

Erica alopecurus. Foto: Wim Wybenga

Erica maestageen volksnaam nie, no common name in English or Sesotho. Maesta is Latyn vir treurig en verwys moontlik na die piepklein blommetjies, wat in vergelyking met die ander ericas, onopsigtelik is. Die plante is veelvertakte dig struike tot 100cm hoog en kom op die berghange voor. En is veral volop langs die Mallen-staproete.

Erica maesta. Langs Mallen-staproete 

Erica maesta. In volle blom. Beide foto’s: Rodney Moffett.

ERICAS (heather) in the Clarens Village Conservancy.

Ericas, of which there are over 800 species worldwide with over 600 in the western and eastern Cape, form the largest group in a family containing such well-known plants as Azaleas and Rhododendron, as well as Blueberry (Vaccinium), the latter now grown commercially locally (Slabberts).

Three species are found in the CVC with another 12 in the nearby environment. Seven occur only in the Drakensberg and are thus endemic to that mountain range.

Ericas are small evergreen shrubs with short needle-like leaves and in most cases colourful tubular flowers.

The three species found in the CVC are:

Erica cerinthoides, in rocky places in higher ground.
E. alopecurus, in short grassveld, notably south of the Kloof dam, and 
E. maesta, on the lower slopes, especially along the Mallen Walk..

Forest Elephant’s Foot and Elephant’s Root.

Rodney Moffett (Research associate, Dept. of Plant Sciences, UFS) contributing with a series of articles regarding the more interesting plants in the Clarens Village Conservancy.

Scientific names

In this series there will be the inevitable use of scientific names so a brief explanation is called for.

All living things have a scientific name known as a binomial, e.g. Homo sapiens, the name for humans. Homo (human) is the genus name and sapiens (wisdom), the specific epithet, the two making up the species name. All scientific names are in Latin and are universal, i.e. the same in any language. As any organism can have only one name, it makes for consistency, unlike common or vernacular names, whereby the same organism may have many names.


I begin the series with a look at two plants with an elephant connection, viz. Forest Elephant’s Foot and Elephant’s Root.

Forest Elephant’s Foot, also known as Wild Yam, Olifantsvoet & Wildeknol in Afrikaans and Ingwevu & Ufudu in isiZulu. There is no recorded name for it in Sesotho.

Its scientific name is Dioscorea sylvatica, the genus name honouring Dioscorides the Greek physician, whose Materia Medica was the leading source of the use of medicinal plants throughout the Middle Ages. The specific epithet means “of the forest”.

The leaves are shiny, dark green and heart-shaped and the flowers are small, yellowish-green, in hanging spikes. The common name refers to the large tuber (root) with corky protruberances, which in older specimens supposedly resembles the foot of an elephant. In the CVC these tubers are underground.

The tuber contains diosgenin which is or was used to prepare cortisone, perhaps explaining why it is used by the Zulu people for treating cuts, wounds, blood problems and chest complaints.

Elephant’s root, also known as Baswortel & Olifantswortel in Afrikaans and Ugweje & Umdabu in isiZulu. The Basotho appear not to use it and have no name for it.

The species name, Elephantorrhiza elephantina, is derived from the large subterranean rhizome (rhiza = root), which resembles an elephant’s trunk.

This is a dwarf shrub whose main biomass is underground in the form of a long woody rhizome. The leaves are divided and up to 1 m tall and the creamy/yellow flowers are borne in spikes at the base of the plant.

It is not plentiful but may be seen in the higher grassland parts of the conservancy. The Zulu roast the beans as a substitute for coffee and also use the plant medicinally.

Sources: Pooley, Elsa. 1998. Field Guide to Wild Flowers of Kwazulu-Natal; Pooley, Elsa. 2003. Mountain Flowers.

The Forest Elephant’s Foot is a deciduous, slender climber occurring in scrub forest and in the CVC may reach up to 4m high.

Image: Wim Wybenga

Being a legume, the Elephant’s root bears fruit which are flattened brown pods.

Image: R O Moffett